Mobile location accurarcy within tens of centimetres from a single Wi-Fi base stations

Aresearch team led by Professor Dina Katabi at MIT present a system called Chronos that enables a single WiFi access point to locate users to within tens of centimeters, without any external sensors.

A new wireless technology developed by MIT researchers could mean safer drones, smarter homes, and password-free WiFi. The team developed a system that enables a single WiFi access point to locate users to within tens of centimeters, without any external sensors. They demonstrated the system in an apartment and a cafe, while also showing off a drone that maintains a safe distance from its user with a margin of error of about 4 centimeters.

Experiments conducted in a two-bedroom apartment with four occupants show that Chronos can correctly identify which room a resident is in 94 percent of the time. For the cafe demo, the system was 97 percent accurate in distinguishing in-store customers from out-of-store intruders - meaning it could be used by small businesses to prevent non-customers from stealing their WiFi. (32 percent of Americans have copped to this cyber-crime.)

Chronos locates users by calculating the “time-of-flight” that it takes for data to travel from the user to an access point. The system is 20 times more accurate than existing systems, computing time-of-flight with an average error of 0.47 nanoseconds, or half than one-billionth of a second.

How it works

Existing localization methods have required four or five WiFi access points. This is because today’s WiFi devices don’t have wide enough bandwidth to measure time-of-flight, and so researchers have only been able to determine someone’s position by triangulating multiple angles relative to the person.

What Chronos adds is the ability to calculate not just the angle, but the actual distance from a user to an access point, as determined by multiplying the time-of-flight by the speed of light.

Wi-Fi lets you hop on different frequency channels, the team programmed the system to jump from channel to channel, gathering many different measurements of the distance between access points and the user. Chronos then automatically “stitches” together these measurements to determine the distance.

Chronos technogoy rapidly hop across these channels that span almost one gigahertz of bandwidth, Chronos can measure time-of-flight with sub-nanosecond accuracy, emulating with commercial WiFi what has previously needed an expensive hardware.

The success of Chronos suggests that WiFi-based positioning could help for other situations where there are limited or inaccessible sensors, like finding lost devices or controlling large fleets of drones.

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Game Changing Technology Benefits

  • Determine someone’s location within tens of centimeters
  • Cheap pinpoint accuracy of location from a single Wi-Fi base station
  • Does not use GPS technology which makes it almost instantaneous, more reliable, and will work with GPS disabled
  • Mobile tech will be able to offer precision location features
  • No complicated hardware setup
  • No expensive multi-base station hardware requirement
  • Simple and fast configuration

Security Advantages

  • MIT’s Chronos technology delivers precise Wi-Fi tracking and enhanced security
  • Technology could help locate lost devices with pinpoint accuracy
  • Networks can disconnect Wi-Fi freeloaders or hackers outside of the allowed physical space (mitigates Wi-Fi signal spillover and hacker snoopers)
  • A wireless device communication functionality can be enabled precisely, e.g. only when placed on your desk